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Having Resiliency & Empathy in Your DE&I Journey

Angela Smith Jones | VP, D&I, Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County

When Angela Smith Jones was Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis, she set the tone as an inclusive leader by extending a hand to people who normally don’t get one – people like herself.

“I took an intern every single quarter that we were able to get interns and the people who ran the internship program knew we’re going to pitch the people to Deputy Mayor Angela Smith Jones that other people might not take because I was all about access,” Angela says. “I was like … I’m going to give you access because I wanted somebody else to give me access when I was your age.’”

On this episode of Human Resolve a year after the death of George Floyd, host Mark Minner speaks with Angela about how her parents raised her to celebrate diversity, why it’s crucial to lean into uncomfortable conversations and how to navigate challenging discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace.

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Meet Angela Smith Jones

Angela Smith Jones has recently been named the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Health & Hospital Corporation. In her role she oversees the strategic implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion across all entities of Health & Hospital, including Eskenazi Health, IEMS, Marion County Public Health Department – to ensure that all employees, patients, clients and vendors feel welcome and valued.

Prior to coming to Health and Hospital, Angela Smith Jones was sworn in as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s first Deputy Mayor for Economic Development in January 2016. Under her purview, Smith Jones oversaw Develop Indy, the city’s economic development organization; Employ Indy, the city’s workforce improvement board; Office of Minority and Women Business Development; and worked closely with the Office of International and Latino Affairs. Leading these organizations, Smith Jones directed the strategies of business retention and expansion, attraction of new companies, job growth and development of a strong workforce pipeline for the city of Indianapolis. She also ensured that entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds received support and given opportunities.

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Show Notes

When Angela Smith Jones was Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis, she set the tone as an inclusive leader by extending a hand to people who normally don’t get one – people like herself.

“I took an intern every single quarter that we were able to get interns and the people who ran the internship program knew we’re going to pitch the people to Deputy Mayor Angela Smith Jones that other people might not take because I was all about access,” Angela says. “I was like … I’m going to give you access because I wanted somebody else to give me access when I was your age.’”

On this episode of Human Resolve a year after the death of George Floyd, host Mark Minner speaks with Angela about how her parents raised her to appreciate diversity, and why it’s crucial to lean into uncomfortable conversations and use them as an opportunity for human connection. Although they’re far from easy, she stresses why having these discussions in the workplace are crucial and gives advice on how to navigate them. 

Angela also shares how her background in public policy and economic development helped prepare her for her current role as Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County, and offers advice for individuals working on DE&I in their own office. 

“The business argument is it’s actually increased profitability and saving of money,” Angela says. “And then the human perspective is I want to feel welcome, too. And I want my kids and my brothers and sisters to feel welcome wherever they’re going.”

Notable Quotes

Inclusion starts with an intention to understand

“It is true that Black women, we don’t like people touching our hair. … [At Miami University] one of my dorm mates was a white woman and she was watching me wash my hair and she was so curious. She was looking at me, and kind of like ‘Can I touch your hair?’ So she asks, so right there, she’s winning. And I was feeling like I was winning and I linked in and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And so I let her touch my hair. … I’ve had people ask me in the last 10 years about that as well, but at Miami, for me, that was an opportunity where I said, ‘You know what? This is an opportunity and occasion to educate, like what if she grows up and she marries a Black man and she has biracial babies? Now she’ll understand their hair more because she and I had this conversation.’”

Education is the foundation for DE&I

“[In school,] we were able to really live in a diverse world and out of all of our teachers, I would say maybe two teachers were American. The remaining teachers were all immigrants, born and raised in their home countries and had their original native accent. So my parents really embraced that. And we talked all the time about the value of embracing people from different cultures and backgrounds… My parents have always said, ‘The only thing I can give you that no one can take from you is your education.’ Because if you think about historical Black America, the government could take your land, they could take your home. So even property wasn’t something that you could keep, but an education is in your mind.”

Lean into discomfort by asking difficult questions

“That little kind of nervous hitch that you get in your gut that makes you kind of like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to do this, I kind of feel uncomfortable’ — you gotta lean into it. And you just have to ask whatever that question is. And just know if you’re being very sincere and genuine, that the person who’s getting the question will more than likely respond with great kindness and great generosity. … I think having just a sincere approach like ‘I know I don’t know, but I want to know. I want to understand.’ If that’s your heart, from where you’re coming, then it will make it easier for whomever you’re engaging to continue to engage with you and say ‘I know you don’t know. I know you’re asking out of sincerity and it’s OK. We can go on this journey together.’”

Why your company should care about diversity

“Part of the conversation sometimes is if we have a more inclusive and diverse environment, we’re going to have a greater attainment and retention. And at the end of the day, that saves the company money. When you’re also able to attract really sharp talent that feels welcomed and included and appreciated and valued, then they stay, they want, they decide to come and then two, they stay and then three, you get the benefit and the value of their talent, and it makes your organization overall a better organization and therefore more profitable. And then when you look at it from the human perspective, if you flip the mirror on yourself, it’s like — don’t you want to feel welcome wherever you’re going? So you flip it and you’re like, ‘Well, I want other people to feel welcome.’”

Improving DE&I in the workplace

“It’s important enough for me to understand you, understand that other person, that other culture, whatever it is, it’s important enough for me to respect people and from where they come from. So if you think like that and you lean into that, you can really dig deep into your heart and soul and realize I can go a little further, I can do a little more. This journey of D and I at corporations — it’s not just a box check. It’s really an internal journey and it’s hard.”

We must be empathetic for our teammates

“The best thing is that so many of my friends who are very senior white male leaders, and I mean very, very senior and/or very wealthy, reached out to me to check in on me and see how I was doing [after the death of George Floyd]. And I took it as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m not OK.’ I was very honest with them. I told them exactly how I felt. My heart was broken as a mother of a Black male, a sister of a Black male, the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development. … And then now with this verdict, I continue to see opportunities to lean in in the business space and continue to talk to those leaders who are saying ‘I’m committed to this’ and kind of challenging them saying, ‘Are you really committed? What are you really doing? Who’s your DE&I person?’”

Every job is an opportunity to grow and learn

“Being at the city as Deputy Mayor allowed me to see why, from a completely different perch, I worked with not only economic development, but also talent development and certification of diverse businesses. So whether it was ethnically diverse, women, veteran or disabled-owned businesses, I got the privilege to work with all of them and the international delegations who came to the city. … So my life as Deputy Mayor really solidified the person that I am, the foundation that I am. When I was meeting with people from India or Rwanda or Israel, I literally brought my whole self because I was like, ‘I’ve been valuing you since I was 5 years old.’ And that was transparent.”

Effective DE&I leaders want impact

[My goal is] to really have made an impact and to leave a legacy where people can say, ‘You know what? Angela Smith Jones helped me to see this. Angela Smith Jones helped me to have an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had had she not held the door open for me.’ So to really have an impact where you really see the impact of diversity and inclusion at more than one organization and it’s sparked by more than one person. That would be awesome. … I could leave a legacy where people would be able to say ‘She was here, and because of that, now we’re better, we’re more inclusive or more diverse. We open more doors.’”

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